Walking With Dinosaurs: The Man Who Brings A Life-Sized Baby T-Rex To Life

Neal Holmes (left) in costume as Baby T-Rex at the Walking with Dinosaurs press conference in Singapore.

I still remember the goosebumps I had when I first saw the animated yet so realistic-looking dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster hit, Jurassic Park. So when there was a chance to meet and interview the man behind the Baby T-Rex from Walking With DinosaursThe Live Experience (WWD), I didn’t hesitate to say yes!

Based on the 1999 acclaimed BBC TV documentary series of the same name, the US$20 million (S$27.7m) live arena spectacular originated in Australia in 2007 and went on to become “the biggest and best dinosaur show in the world”. Last here nine years ago, Walking With DinosaursThe Live Experience will run at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from August 29 to September 8, 2019.

Musings on the M49 was thus chuffed to be invited to the Walking With Dinosaurs media conference held at Capitol Theatre, where a life-sized Baby T-Rex, operated by British performer Neal Holmes, was the featured star.

ON THE FLOOR WITH A BABY DINOSAUR

Baby T-Rex mingling with the audience at the WWD press call!

The baby Tyrannosaurus Rex—to give its scientific name in full—is but one of the 18 life-sized dinosaurs, operated by skilled performers via animatronics and physical puppetry, featured in the highly successful Walking with Dinosaurs arena show. Using state-of-the-art technology, lighting effects and projection, the 100-minute show is presented as a theatrical story of the prehistoric creatures’ 200-million-year existence on Earth.

Nine species from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods will be represented. You can expect Mama T-Rex to be super huge, but it will not be the biggest dinosaur on show — that honor goes to the Brachiosaurus which measures at 11 metres tall and 17 metres from nose to tail!

WWD resident director Ian Waller introducing the Baby T-Rex.

After introducing Baby-T—as it is affectionately called—WWD resident director Ian Waller filled us in with details of what the young critter is like, what went into the production of the show, and what we can expect from the live performance.

As he was talking, Baby T continued to strut around, doing its own thing as what you’d expect an inquisitive creature would do. Truth be told, puppeteer Neal Holmes’ movements were so realistic that at times you simply forgot that it is just a human being in a fancy costume!

One of the lucky kids who got to pose with the Baby T-Rex!

Highlight for everyone was without doubt the photo op with Baby T in all its glory. Many of the kids in attendance were thrilled; one even came clad in a green dinosaur head costume! “Generally, kids love dinosaurs,” Holmes would confirm later during the interview session. Most adults were thrilled to bits too (especially yours truly)!

TALKING WITH THE MAN IN THE DINOSAUR SUIT

The man who makes Baby T-Rex comes to life!

It was exactly 10 years ago when Briton Neal Holmes, then a fitness instructor, went for an audition in London, not knowing exactly what was required, and ended up with an agent plus a full-time job as a dinosaur puppeteer all within a week.

With the Baby T-Rex costume weighing about 35-40kg, the job is needless to say, physically demanding but the now 35-year-old, who has a background in acrobatics and parkour, takes it all in his stride. Not only does he have to walk and run like a dinosaur, Holmes also controls other movements of the “baby” creature from the eyes to the tail.

Revealing that he can’t really see much out of the suit, one key thing Holmes has learnt to be extra mindful of while performing is to “not bump into things, or run into other dinosaurs”. Depending on demand, performances could be as many as three shows a day, or nine shows during weekends.

Neal Holmes speaking to the media at the WWD press call.

When Musings on the M49 asked whether has anything gone wrong for him during performances, Holmes admitted that “the worst is falling over.”

He elaborated: “I’ve never been injured, but it could be due to a slippery stage or just an error. ‘Cos with big dinosaur feet, it could happen when you cross your legs. It’s quite difficult to get out of. That’s probably the silliest thing I’ve ever done.”

But there’s help when such mishaps occur. “Stage people will look out for you and rush out to pick you up. If you are okay and not injured, and the suit is okay, you just continue from where you left off.”

After a decade as a dinosaur puppeteer, Holmes also realizes that “less is more” when it comes to performing.

“It is easy to do too much in puppetry, so I’m careful in not going too crazy like a puppy dog (when portraying a baby T-Rex), but to allow for moments of stillness. The (dinosaur) suit itself looks amazing just standing still, so to just allow those moments to happen ‘cos there are so much other things going on,” he explained.

Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience is on Aug 29 to Sept 8, 2019 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Performances : Tue-Fri 7pm; Sat-Sun: 10.30am, 2:30pm and 6:30pm. Tickets from $78 from http://www.sportshubtix.sg.

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

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Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ The Musical – 8 Reasons To See The Show

If you are a fan of Disney’s Aladdin, 2019 has been a good year.

On the week that the 2019 live-action adaptation of the beloved 1992 animated film crossed the magical US$1 billion (S$1.36b) mark at the global box office, the hit Broadway adaptation made its debut in Singapore and is entertaining audiences in a whole new way.

Boasting energizing song-and-dance sequences, amazing sets and effects, and stunning costumes, Aladdin the musical—which is based on the 1992 Oscar-winning film—premiered on Broadway in 2014 with book by playwright Chad Beguelin, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin. Singapore will be the only Asian stop and final run for this Aladdin tour.

Musings on the M49 was chuffed to be invited to the official opening night at Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands. Here are eight reasons why Aladdin the musical is a must-see, especially if you are a fan of the Disney films or musicals in general. (Aladdin Photos Credit: Base Entertainment Asia)

1. “Friend Like Me”

The Genie’s signature song in the treasure-hoarding Cave of Wonders is a spectacular 14-minute showstopper comprising breath-taking choreography and cool magical effects. The scene-stealer was without question Gareth Jacobs whose creative genius as the Genie made the vibrant and pulsating sequence an absolute joy to watch.

2. “A Whole New World”

The Oscar-winning song is a timeless classic and watching Aladdin (Graeme Isaako) and Princess Jasmine (Shubshri Kandiah) singing it while seemingly flying on a magic carpet for real on stage is simply a thrill – even though you know it is manoeuvred by a special albeit well-hidden contraption. Easily the show’s second top highlight, drawing lots of oohs and aahs from the audience.

3. A Genie Like No Other

He’s not blue (except for his costume) and does not appear vaporizing from a lamp, but Gareth Jacobs’ Genie totally stole the show from the word go. He sang and danced with gusto, and his wisecracking had the audiences in stitches. His shout-outs to Singapore at appropriate times was a nice touch as well.

4. Classic And New Tunes Combo
Besides the unforgettable tunes from the 1992 film such as “Arabian Nights”, “One Jump Ahead” and “Prince Ali”, fans can savor seven new songs in the musical. Menken and Beguelin wrote four tunes specially for the stage production and these are “These Palace Walls”, “A Million Miles Away”, “Diamond in the Rough” and “Somebody’s Got Your Back”. Also included are three songs by Menken and Ashman that were cut from the original film – “Proud of Your Boy”, “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” and “High Adventure”. Let’s hope for future productions, they will consider adding “Speechless”, Princess Jasmine’s empowering anthem from the 2019 megahit, too!

5. Stunning Set Design

From the colorful mythical city of Agrabah, to the Sultan and Princess Jasmine’s luxurious palace, to the gold-glittering Cave of Wonders, the show’s 500 captivating sets, props and backdrops are to be lauded. The audience is easily transported to every location in a blink of an eye, whether it is a Middle Eastern-influenced marketplace or a cave in a dark, isolated desert.

6. Shining, Shimmering, Splendid Costumes

The costumes in Aladdin have to be one of the most vibrant and sparkling set of outfits I’ve ever seen in a musical. And this is thanks to some 1000 fabrics and half a million Swarovski crystals that were used to make and decorate the 300+ costumes in the show. There was so much sparkle, they should have warned us to wear shades…

7. Incredible Special Effects
Besides a believable flying magic carpet, the show also employs a great number of whoa-inducing magical effects on stage such as slide of hand tricks, disappearing box acts, and quick change illusions, some of which were even executed effortlessly during song sequences.

8. Funny Bytes Galore
Thanks to some great one-liners and hilarious ad-libs, there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that didn’t just materializes out of the Genie, but also from supporting characters such as Jafar (Patrick R Brown) and his scheming sidekick, Iago (Doron Chester). I would arguably say there were more laughs generated from the musical than from the cinematic version!

All in all, Aladdin the musical is great fun, a spectacular that is easily enjoyed by both young and old. Though the first half felt a tad draggy (though understandably having to introduce every key character), the show nonetheless does present a whole new world of Disney’s Aladdin that is truly worth a watch.

Rewind: At the Aladdin Red Carpet
Attending stage shows, it is always fun to see people dress up for the occasion or are game to participate in entertaining activities. Prior to the show’s start on opening night, we witnessed a few folks who shook a tail feather or two on the “purple” carpet! (Photos by Marguerita Tan)

For starters, you always want to give a thumb’s up when theatre goers take the trouble to dress up according to the theme of the show!

And from the young to the young-at-heart, a few were sporting enough to sing ‘A Whole New World’ in front of cameras!

And here’s some of the famous faces spotted: 2009 Singapore Idol Sezairi Sazali (left) and author/humor writer Sylvia Toh Paik Choo (far right)

Aladdin the Broadway musical plays at the Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore till Sept 1, 2019. Performances: Tue to Fri, 7.30pm; Sat 2pm & 7.30pm; and Sun 1pm & 6.30pm. Tickets from $68++ from www.sistic.com and www.marinabaysands.com/ticketing.

Read also:
* Top 10 Songs by Disney Princesses – From “Let It Go” to “Speechless”

‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8 – The Final ‘Beautiful Death’ Poster Series By Robert Ball

And now our watch has ended.

After eight enthralling seasons, Game of Thrones finally came to an end in May 2019 and, needless to say, deaths of key characters came fast and furious in the short but eventful 6-episode final season.

It’s been a few weeks since the series finale, but UK-based artist Robert Ball eventually revealed the final Beautiful Death poster, the last of his incredible 74-poster series featuring the show’s iconic deaths that started way back in 2011 when Game of Thrones first premiered on HBO.

Let’s take a look at the final poster from “The Iron Throne”:

Beautiful Death GOT S806: “You are my Queen. Now and Always.”

The poster features two key deaths – that of the Iron Throne, under the fiery breath of Drogon, and that of one of the series’ most beloved characters, Daenerys Targaryen, at the hand of her lover/nephew/rival heir to the Iron Throne, Jon Snow. The key phrase is Jon’s last words to Dany before he fatally buries the knife into her heart, becoming a Queenslayer and Kinslayer in one fell swoop.

It’s amazing how Ball depicts Daenerys dying along with the burning Iron Throne, complete with Jon’s knife sticking at where her heart would be. As the Throne is engulfed in rubble made up of “1000 swords of Ageon’s enemies”, the red trail also outlines the bloody journey that the dragon queen took to get to the Red Keep including the deaths of her brother Viserys, the Sons of the Harpy, the Dothraki khals, slavemasters’ ships, etc. The look is meant to be gothic but it’s probably a coincidence that red and black also just happened to be the colors of House Targaryen.

Ultimately, as Ball informs makinggameofthrones.com, the poster is about “how power corrupts all” and is “an encapsulation of the whole series”.

Read also:
*‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8: The 12 Most Memorable Moments from the Final Season
*‘Game Of Thrones’ Season 8 Episode 6: The 20 Best Quotes From the Series Finale, “The Iron Throne”

And now that his watch has ended, here’s Robert Ball’s 5 other Beautiful Death posters from the final season of Game of Thrones.

Beautiful Death GOT S805: “Hello, Big Brother.”

Although I was somehow glad that the artist didn’t opt to focus on Daenery’s horrific heel turn of causing thousands of deaths in King’s Landing after the city’s surrender in “The Bells”, I felt the deaths of key main characters, Cersei and Jaime Lannister, should have garnered more importance over the deaths of the Clegane brothers in the episode. Cleganebowl was fascinating but a “Nothing Else Matters” poster featuring the Lannister siblings as the Red Keep and the city collapse around them could have been more poignant.

Read also:
*‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8: The 15 Best Quotes from Episode 5, “The Bells”

Beautiful Death GOT S804: “Dracarys.”

The Mother of Dragons may have popularised the High Valyrian term which means “dragonfire”, but fans will arguably remember Missandei’s last word much more now as it is the final straw that “awoke the dragon” that is Daenerys Stormborn. After the deaths of Ser Jorah Mormont, thousands of her Dothraki and Unsullied troops, and Rhaegal, seeing her best friend killed as well in a short period of just two episodes, you just know that fire and blood is coming to King’s Landing in the very next episode, courtesy of the dragon queen and her WMD that is Drogon. The poster shows Missandei’s last moment before she is executed by the Mountain as her dream to retire to the beaches of Naath with lover Grey Worm vaporises into thin air.

Read also:
*‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8: The 20 Best Quotes From Episode 4, ‘The Last of the Starks’

Beautiful Death GOT S803: “Not Today.”

Melisandre, Theon Greyjoy, Ser Jorah Mormont, Ser Beric Dondarrion, Lyanna Mormont, Dolorous Edd, Qhono, and last but by no means least, the Night King. There were key deaths aplenty in “The Long Night” and Ball decided to feature all of them instead of just one for the Episode 3 poster. It was never a doubt, but after Arya Stark’s epic slaying of The Night King, “Not Today” will definitely go down as one of the most iconic quotes from Game of Thrones, two words that we could all say to the god of death when the critical moment arrives (if need be).

Read also:
*’Game of Thrones’ Season 8: The 12 Best Quotes From Episode 3, “The Long Night”

Beautiful Death GOT S802: “…But at least We Die Together.”

“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was a rare Game of Thrones episode where there was not a single death to report. Easily the best episode of Season 8–beautifully written by Bryan Cogman–the best scenes came from the fireplace ensemble in Winterfell’s Great Hall where Tyrion and Jaime Lannister, (pre Ser) Brienne of Tarth, Podrick, Ser Davos Seaworth and Tormund Giantsbane gathered to prepare for the upcoming war against the undead in which survival is very unlikely. Surprisingly, despite the quote by Tormund (which he uttered in the war council meeting and not in this scene), all six characters survived the Great War. Turn the poster upside down to see four of them drawn onto the floor…

Read also:
*‘Game Of Thrones’ Season 8: The 15 Best Quotes from Episode 2, “A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms”

Beautiful Death GOT S801: “It’s a Message from the Night King.”

The first Beautiful Death poster of Season 8 sees Ser Beric Dondarrion and Tormund Giantsbane flanking Ned Umber as the poor lad resurrected as a wight while pinned onto a wall with a spiral of human limbs at Last Hearth. The Night King’s message is that he and his minions are on the way to Winterfell. The more worrying message though is how Ball bathes Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen’s romantic moment in a bloody waterfall, with Jon’s cape drawn to look like a dragon’s wing, indicating the sledgehammer revelation of his true parentage that is to come by the episode’s end.

Read also:
*‘Game Of Thrones’: The 12 Best Quotes From The Season 8 Premiere
*The 20 Best Tyrion Lannister Quotes from ‘Game of Thrones’ Seasons One to Eight

Robert Ball’s complete Game of Thrones’ Beautiful Death series can be seen at https://beautifuldeath.com/

‘Game Of Thrones’ Season 8 Episode 1’s ‘Beautiful Death’ Poster Features The Night King’s Message

It was when I attended the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience featuring Ramin Djawadi in Belfast last year that I discovered the Beautiful Death art series by artist Robert Ball. I wanted a memento from the concert and the concert merchandise that caught my eye was a colorful poster featuring a dozen of artistic depictions of memorable death scenes from the first seven seasons of the HBO blockbuster series.

From the Business Insider, I learnt that the London-based illustrator has been producing an artwork after every GOT episode where there’s a key death sequence since Season 1, with HBO providing him via e-mail with the “quote from the week”, as well as the subject for the week’s “beautiful death”.

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR GAME OF THRONES’ SEASON 8 EPISODE 1 IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCH THE EPISODE.)

With the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones kicking off this month, Ball has released his first Beautiful Death poster which features the horrific death of young Ned Umber at Last Hearth in the premiere episode. You can see the beautifully illustrated poster below:

“It’s A Message From the Night King…”

The quote is uttered by Ser Beric Dondarrion after he set the dead Umber lad on fire when he resurrected as a wight while pinned onto a wall with a spiral of human limbs. Hence you can see the six-time born-again lightning lord (left centre) and Tormund Giantsbane (right centre) flanking the image of Ned Umber as it was them who found the young lord at Last Hearth. The Night King has his icy hands around the boy to show how he was used as a tool to relay a message to the living.

“Nothing Lasts…” – Varys

What’s worrying is that Ball has also drawn in Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen’s romantic moment by the waterfall except that the couple is now bathed in bloody waters. That’s not good news. The cool bit is how Ball made Jon’s cape to look like the wing of a dragon indicating the sledgehammer revelation that is to come by the end of the episode.

The “foreshadowing” is in line with another theme from the Season 8 premiere episode which implies that “youth and happiness, and Jon and Daenerys’ brief moments together, will ‘never last’”, as Ball informed makingameofthrones.com. (Sob.)

Read also:
* 8 ‘Game of Thrones’ Fan Theories About Daenerys Targaryen’s Endgame
* ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8: The 20 Best Quotes From Episode 4, ‘The Last of the Starks’
*’Game of Thrones’ Season 8: The 12 Best Quotes From Episode 3, “The Long Night”
* ‘Game Of Thrones’ Season 8: The 15 Best Quotes from Episode 2, “A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms”
* ‘Game Of Thrones’: The 12 Best Quotes From The Season 8 Premiere
‘Game of Thrones’: Who’s Likely to Die in Season 8?

Iconic Beautiful Death Posters – Seasons 1-7

As Season 8’s well-scripted Episode 2, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, is one of the rare GOT episodes not to feature a single death, it’s safe to say there won’t be a Beautiful Death artpiece released this week.
(UPDATE: I was wrong, there was a poster and a good one too which you can see at this link here.)

So, let’s take a look back at the most iconic Beautiful Death moments from the past seven seasons by Robert Ball:

The Execution of Ned Stark
Season 1 Episode 9

The Battle of Blackwater
Season 2 Episode 9

The Red Wedding
Season 3 Episode 9

Ygritte’s Demise at Castle Black
Season 4 Episode 9

Massacre at Hardhome
Season 5 Episode 8

Destruction of the Sept of Baelor
Season 6 Episode 10

Loot Train Attack
Season 7 Episode 4

Game of Thrones Season 8 is on Sundays (USA) / Mondays (Asia) till May 19, with a special two-hour documentary, Game of Thrones: The Last Watch, on May 26.

Read also:
7 ‘Game of Thrones’ Fan Theories About the Crypts of Winterfell
* ‘Game of Thrones’: Eight Things You Should Know About The Battle of Winterfell in Season Eight
* ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8: Why Jon Snow May Use Greatsword Dawn to Slay the Night King

First Look At Stars Of Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ The Musical @ Marina Bay Sands

Aladdin the Broadway musical will stage its first and only Asian stop in Singapore at
the Sands Theatre in July 2019. [Photo Credit: Base Entertainment Asia]

Good news if you are a fan of Disney’s Aladdin. This year, not only you will get to see the live-action adaptation of the 1992 Oscar-winning animated film in May, its hit Broadway theatrical production will also make its debut here in Singapore, its only stop in Asia, at Marina Bay Sands in July.

So it was a thrill when Musings on the M49 was invited to the media launch for Aladdin the musical for which its three leading stars–namely Gareth Jacobs (Genie), Graeme Isaako (Aladdin) and Shubshri Kandiah (Jasmine)–flew in specially to publicise the show.

The event was held at Sands Theatre at an auditorium behind the main stage. Besides drinks and canapés, there were also costumes from the show set up on site for guests to admire up close.

Aladdin, which tells the story of a street urchin who wins the heart of a princess with the help of a genie, promises to present the most lavish sets, vibrant costumes and
stunning special effects ever to be seen at the Sands Theatre.

The musical, which made its world premiere on Broadway in 2014 , will have over 330 glittering costumes, featuring more than 1000 fabrics and almost half a million Swarovski crystals. Its mega sets include the fantasy city of Agrabah, the Sultan’s palace, and the legendary Cave of Wonders.

Songs Maketh the Musical
And not forgetting of course, the Oscar-winning score and songs by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin (who also wrote the book). The musical features five songs from the beloved animated film including the all-time classic, ‘A Whole New World’, plus a few more written specially for the stage version.

The charming Graeme Isaako is Aladdin.

After opening addresses by the good people responsible for bringing in Aladdin, we were introduced first to the Sydney-born, New Zealand-raised Graeme Isaako who plays the titular character. Armed with a dazzling smile and “K-pop hair” (his words, not mine), the singer/dancer/actor spoke on how hard he had to work for the show, especially as Aladdin is a very energetic character for whom parkour skills are required, besides singing and dancing abilities. Issako, who made his musical debut in 2002, then showed off his smooth vocals when he performed ‘Proud Of Your Boy’, a ballad that was cut from the original film.

Shubshri Kandiah singing the cherished duet, ‘A Whole New World’,
with Graeme Isaako.

Next up was Shubshri Kandiah who hails from Queensland and who won the role of Jasmine in the Australian production of Aladdin straight after graduating from university in 2017. The radiant artiste disclosed how delighted she is to play a princess who is “feisty and independent” and “close to my heart”. After revealing that one of her favorite songs in the stage musical is ‘A Million Miles Away’, in which Jasmines sings about her dreams, she teamed up with Isaako to sing the all-time favorite, ‘A Whole New World’, which thrilled the audience no end.

Gareth Jacobs, who plays the Genie, performing the showstopper ‘Friend Like Me’ complete with backup singers.

Finally, we met with the Genie himself in the form of Gareth Jacobs who has led the Australian touring company in this role from Melbourne, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand. After revealing that Aladdin was the very first film he saw as a nine-year-old, Jacobs informed us that his favorite moments of doing the stage musical are performing the 15-minute showstopper, ‘Friend Like Me’; being shot out of a cannon; and improvising jokes. Most of all though, it was meeting his idol, composer Alan Menken, in person when he first took on the role.

Gareth Jacobs as Genie and Graeme Isaako as Aladdin in one of the big production numbers in Aladdin the musical. [Photo Credit: Base Entertainment Asia]

When asked if he will do anything exclusively for the Singapore show, Jacobs–who had previously lived and worked in Singapore for five years–affirmed that he (as the Genie) often tells some jokes that is relevant to the city the show is playing at and so local audiences here will have to “watch and find out!” He then ended his segment with a rousing performance of ‘Friend Like Me’ with the help of two sassy back-up singers.

Yours truly with the talented Aladdin cast
AND a magic lamp!

After a Q&A session, the cast generously posed for photos with almost everyone who was present, complete with magic lamp. Alas, I didn’t get a chance to rub it and make a wish, let alone wishes three. Still, I got to hold it and got close to a smiling genie, so that’s good enough for me!

Aladdin the Broadway musical plays at the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore from July 21, 2019. Performances: Tue to Fri, 7.30pm; Sat 2pm & 7.30pm; and Sun 1pm & 6.30pm. Tickets from $68++ from www.marinabaysands.com/ticketing or www.sistic.com.

Unless stated, all photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

Japan Cool: Unique Products From Japanese Prefectures

Sagabiyori rice from Takeo City, Saga Prefecture

If you can’t go to Japan, let Japan come to you.

In the past few years, I’ve been trying to arrange a cherry blossom holiday (March-April) to Japan but each time something or other would crop up and I end up going somewhere else.

Hence I was pleased when Musings on the M49 was invited by Media Japan and the Japan Local Government Alliance to a special preview session to sample unique products from three Japanese prefectures. At least I get to see some things uniquely Japan right here in Singapore!

Held at Tomi Sushi @ Millenia Walk, the preview showcased three Japanese product and food items namely Sagabiyori rice from Takeo City in Saga Prefecture, Senshu cotton towels from Izumisano City in Osaka Prefecture, and Tsuiki aluminium spoons from TsubameSanjo City in Niigata Prefecture.

Sagabiyori Rice from Saga Prefecture

First item for us to sample was Sagabiyori Japanese rice. The short-grain rice is primarily planted and harvested in Saga Prefecture, located north of Kyushu Island in the south of Japan. Rice farming is the main industry in Saga’s fertile plains, while fishing thrives in the coastal areas.

Thanks to venue host Tomi Sushi, we got to try the Sagabiyori Japanese rice in the form of onigiri rice balls, wrapped in toasted seaweed. If you love Japanese cuisine, you will know that the Japanese rice used is often light, fluffy and sightly sticky. Sagabiyori Japanese rice is rather different – the rice grains are bigger, a tad sweeter and not that sticky.

Often eaten as a snack or a quick breakfast/lunch item in Japan, the onigiri stuffed with tuna mayo and spicy ikura (large red Japanese caviar, pictured left) were really tasty and delicious. Even without stuffing, plain onigiri made of Sagabiyori Japanese rice was very filling on its own.

The premium rice brand—granted the top ‘Special A’ ranking by the Japan Grain Inspection Association—is available in 5kg packs from $60 in Isetan and Meidi-ya.

Senshu Cotton Towels from Osaka Prefecture

Next, we were introduced to the soft-to-the-touch Senshu cotton towels, known for their high water absorbency. Truth be told, I never knew towel production was a thing in Japan! The industry started as far back as 1887 when Japanese native Enjiro Satoi, impressed by quality imported towels, decided to produce his own towels in the Senshu region in Osaka Prefecture (an hour’s train ride from Kansai International Airport).

As lots of Senshu towels were provided at the event for us to touch and feel, their softness and gentleness cannot be doubted. We were also informed that the towels do not contain any wax, glue and dyes due to Atozarashi, a process unique to the Izumisano towel-producing region. This process involves thoroughly rinsing off waste and by-products from the delicate towel fabrics with fresh underground water.

We were also encouraged to soak the Senshu towels with water to test its high water absorbency. Well, when drenched, the towel certainly absorbed well with hardly any water droplets rolling off the material’s surface (like very cheap towels do). Along with its soft texture—a key feature for me when it comes to buying face towels—the Senshu towel is a product worth considering.

Available in various colors and sizes, Senshu face towels priced from $6-$8 can be found in Takashimaya and Isetan.

Tsuiki Aluminium Spoons from Niigata Prefecture

One thing I love about Japan is that they seem to have an invention for everything in life – from the world’s first rice cooker to, er, square watermelons. Well, at this preview, we were introduced to these cool looking, aluminium “thermal conduction” ice cream spoons from TsubameSanjo City in Niigata Prefecture, a 70-minute train ride north of Tokyo.

Produced by Tsuiki in TsubameSanjo, an area renowned for the production of quality metal wares, each spoon is made from 100% aluminium. The way it works is that if you hold it for at least 10 seconds, it will conduct your body heat down to its squared-shape bowl tip, warming it up enough to slice through ice-cold desserts such as ice creams and puddings easily!

Have to confess it didn’t really worked for me at the preview as the tips of my fingers were rather cold then and I felt the ice cream given to us were kinda soft in the first place. Even if the heat bit need a bit of work to work, I love the spoon’s shiny look and its design which makes it very comfortable to hold. I did try it again at home when my hand was warmer and the spoon did slice through my hard butter easily. Also, the Tsuiki spoon definitely heats up when I used it to stir hot coffee!

Tsuiki ice cream spoons, priced from $10-$15 in various colors, are currently available exclusively at Tomi Sushi @ Millenia Walk.

April 2019 TV & Movie Highlights: From ‘Game Of Thrones’ To ‘Killing Eve’, Avengers to Anime

Being a longtime TV and movie fan, I don’t recall if ever there was a single month in a single year that touts TV returns and new film releases that have my interests at heart as much as this coming April.

From the final season of the fantasy epic series Game of Thrones, to the brilliant TV spy thriller Killing Eve, to cool anime productions from Japan, here are five highlights to look out for come April 2019:

1. Killing Eve Season 2

Will Jodie Comer’s Villanelle be hell-bent on killing Eve in Killing Eve Season 2? [Credit: BBC America]

Voted and awarded as one of 2018’s best TV shows by many big-name media outlets, Killing Eve is one of the most ingenious series to be seen on TV for quite some time. Focusing on an intriguing cat-and-mouse chase between jaded M16 agent Eve Polastri and psychopathic assassin Villanelle, performances are outstanding with Sandra Oh rightfully sweeping most of the best TV drama actress awards, although co-star Jodie Comer deserved the accolades just as much. Season 2 promises to be just as sharp and intense (and funny) as it was for Season 1, even though show-runner Phoebe Waller-Bridge did not do any writing (but a good writer friend of hers did). Can’t wait!
Killing Eve Season 2 premieres on Sunday, April 7, BBC America.

Read also:
* ‘Killing Eve’ Season 2: What to Expect When the Acclaimed Psycho Thriller Returns
* Five Behind-The-Scene Things You Should Know About ‘Killing Eve’

2. Game Of Thrones Season 8

Will it be a bittersweet victory for Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) in Game of Thrones‘ final season? [Credit: HBO]

Winter seriously took a long time in coming if you are a Game of Thrones fan. With an almost 18-month gap between Season 7 and its upcoming final season, it’s arguably the second longest hiatus period in TV history (The Sopranos holds the record if I’m not mistaken; and not counting series reboots.) But David Benioff and Dan Weiss promised that the wait will be worth it, with each of the six episodes almost feature-length and with big battles galore. What most fans care about though is who dies, who lives, and most importantly, who gets to sit on the Iron Throne. George RR Martin says it will be a “bittersweet victory”, but victory for whom? The Night King? Queen Cersei? Brrrr, the thought of it.
Game of Thrones’ Season 8 premieres on Sunday, April 14, HBO.

Read also:
* 8 ‘Game of Thrones’ Fan Theories About Daenerys Targaryen’s Endgame
*  ‘Game of Thrones’ Fan Theories About the Crypts of Winterfell
* ‘Game of Thrones’: Who’s Likely to Die in Season 8?
‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8: Why Jon Snow May Use Greatsword Dawn to Slay the Night King

3. Okko’s Inn

If you are a Studio Ghibli fan like me, you’ll be glad to know that animators who have left the famed Hayao Miyazaki studio are doing their part to produce adorable Studio-Ghibli-like films for film lovers to enjoy. This year, Kitaro Kosaka, a key animator on many of Studio Ghibli’s box office hits, brings us Okko’s Inn, a story of a young girl who, while training to be the junior innkeeper of her grandma’s traditional Japanese inn, discovers that she can see the spirits that live in the building. The supernatural beings have to be put on the back-burner however as a string of guests arrive who will test Okko’s mantle to be a gracious host. Will she prevail? We bet our Totoro stuffed toys that she will!
Okko’s Inn opens in selected U.S. theaters on Monday, April 22, 2019.

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* Why J.J. Abrams’ ‘Your Name’ Adaptation Might Not Be Such a Great Idea
* 5 Things We Want to See in Studio Ghibli’s Theme Park in 2022
* Studio Ghibli Sees First East-west Collaboration in the Wordless Wonder ‘The Red Turtle’

4. Avengers: Endgame

Half of the universe, including many of our heroes, vaporized into thin air by super villain Thanos at the end of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. Can the remaining Avengers—Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, et al —do damage control? Or can they do the impossible and turn back time to before the Mad Titan snapped his fingers? Either way, Endgame marks the end of the Infinity Stones story arc in the MCU. And I’m guessing that most of our heroes who we think have bite the dust will make it back alive considering—SPOILER—young Peter Parker, to name but one, will be back for more adventures in Spider-Man: Far from Home (23rd MCU film due out July 2019), which reportedly takes place after events in Endgame…
Avengers: Endgame is in U.S. theaters from Thursday, April 26, 2019.

Read also:
* Hammer Time! Who Keeps Marvel Actors Safe Behind the Scenes of ‘Thor: Ragnarok’?

5. Attack On Titan Season 3 Part II

Based on the best-selling Japanese manga, Attack on Titan is one of the most exciting anime series in recent times thanks to its captivating animation style, intriguing plot-lines and gripping action. Story tells of a remnant of humanity who lives behind walled cities to protect themselves against giant humanoid creatures that eat humans. By Season 3, the Survey Corps, led by their charismatic captain, Levi Ackerman, has discovered that the humanoids are actually created by the ruling royal family to keep citizens in check. Part 1 sees the Corps including Eren Yeager—the only Titan helping to protect humanity—tackling these human enemies; while Part II will see them take on former comrades Reiner Braun (Armored Titan) and Bertholdt Hoover (Colossal Titan), and their “chief”, the Beast Titan, who may have a shocking secret to reveal…
Attack on Titan Season 3 returns Sunday, April 29, 2019, various anime channels.

Read also:
* ‘Attack on Titan’ Season 3: Humans Are the New Threat